Friend or Foe

Lavender has always been one of my favorite flowers. It smells good, it’s hardy, and grows well in low water areas, and it is useful for so many things, perfume, soap, even candy. So it came as a great surprise, when researching Victorian Flower Language, to discover that Lavender symbolized distrust. When I go online to search flower meanings many of the websites present me with the statement that Lavender symbolizes devotion. But in the older, well researched, books on the topic, they clearly state that originally, when communicating using flower language, lavender represented the emotion of distrust.

Why would this be so?

The several of the books I have read provide a rather interesting explanation. It is said that the sentiment of distrust is based on an early xenophobic belief amongst Europeans. Lavender was considered an exotic plant as it was for many years predominantly grown in Egypt. Amongst other theories there were rumors for many years that poisonous snakes lived underneath the plants. Thus they were associated with snakes and poison as well as Egyptians and all things unknown and culturally threatening to the medieval European. Later, lavender became a primary product of France, and the fear of the plant shifted. However, the reputation of it being somehow connected to danger remained strong enough for the Victorians to still consider it as a symbol for suspicion when added to their Tussie-Mussies, the bouquets carefully designed with specific flower types to communicate various coded messages.

I don’t know what is more intriguing to me. That for years the flower that is now the staple of any English garden, lavender, was known as a foreign plant. Or, that somehow in the ancient past, the flower was connected with snakes, and by association the fall of Eden. This is a flower that associates with belly crawlers and dark magic. Is this the reason we tend to put it in the bureau drawers where our undergarments lay? Is there an association between the smell of lavender and our judgments of carnal pleasure? Is lavender the scent we use to cover up “sin”? Is the English garden lavender hiding deep unspoken secrets that go all the way back to Eve?